Friday, October 05, 2007

Cinema Urgency

I haven’t spoken about my screening much at all in the last few weeks. Those who know me know that it is extremely odd for me to not hamper on and on about all things filmic, let alone screenings in which I am involved. There is of course a reason for this: I was producing the fucking thing and didn’t think it was conducive to talk shit on it, and the filmmakers involved. But the screening has passed and the results we lackluster at best…that’s right another great failure to add to my resume.

But I am getting ahead of myself; I should start at the beginning. Cinema Urgency was the name I gave to a screening that I have devised, planned and produced. The original idea was to have six filmmakers who I felt were accomplished and motivated, screen their films (including mine), get all of us to invite our money-people…and fully vet the films. I had this screening a matter of days ago, and I’ve spoke little on the topic because I didn’t know how I want to respond.

I was suddenly concerned about offending people, about offending filmmakers about burning bridges and all that shit. Gone was my maverick approach to life and filmmaking, gone was the lust and desire to solve the problem, to find the answer….here is why.

I began by pulling out all the old festival programs from the festivals that I had attended over the past eighteen months to assemble my program. I had no intentions of screening films by filmmakers that I didn’t personally know or films that I hadn’t personally seen screen. But I’m still getting ahead of myself…Jesus fucking Christ is this thing bothering me…let us start at the real beginning.

I had simple requirements for the films that were to be included; they had to have been screening on the festival circuit for a minimum of twenty four months, the films had to have a minimum of five festivals plays – all of which could not be in Los Angeles. I was specifically seeking filmmakers that had traveled across North America and hopefully out of the US. I required that all films had a minimum of 10K hits on its website, the films needed to have reviews, the films needed to have a web presence. That was essentially my core set of requirements…then I began to get disappointed.

The First Disappointment: It was impossible to find many of the films that I really liked, I had a list of seven films that I thought were in contention and only B. Radical’s film “The Package” could be found. I really couldn’t believe that none of the rest of the films had a website, none of the rest of the films had any web visibility (meaning that if I Google the title of your film in quotes that I get results), of the few that did have a website – none of them had a fully functioning website with multiple pages on the site that detailed the film since apparently filmmakers think it’s ok to just have a jump page (home page) with some basic info on it and a contact email….I really couldn’t believe that. I struggle quite a lot to update and maintain SLZ’s web presence and site and what I learned in the beginning of this exercise was really upsetting. Am I really the only filmmaker that I know that gets it? How the fuck do you expect to get the millions of dollars that you need to shoot your feature if you don’t even have an email or phone number visible somewhere in cyberspace? And since I’m bitchin’…let’s bitch about film titles. I am continually amazed at how little of a web presence most indie films have. Most filmmakers seem unable to figure out how to build Google pages and how to drive traffic and I know the main reason why. It’s the title of these films: when you titled your short film (or your feature) something cute, something clichéd like “First and ten” or “Last Call” or “Blind date” your are making it nearly impossible to build a web presence. Yeah, I know that I am confusing you, but I’ll explain….

The best way for me to explain this is to get technical, which I am learning that a lot of filmmakers, screenwriters and generally indie film people seem to be reluctant to do...well tough shit I can’t explain anything with a $3 vocabulary and words with less than three syllables. It is an issue of meta-tags which are what we call the unique words or phrases that you associate with your film so that people can find you. For example, my meta-tags for Sex, Love & Z-Parts are “Sex, Love & Z-Parts”, “Cooprdog” and “SLZ”. If you type any of these phrases into a browser search window (preferably Google) you will quickly find the film and in turn me. This is why it is extremely important to have a unique title for your film. When you pick a title that is popular, well know or clichéd…you have to compete with the rest of the meta-tags universe. I don’t care how awesome your film is you aren’t going to generate more links, searches for you and your links and posting of your URL than the NFL, or the NBA or any other huge media presence. You simply will not be able to move your links to the top of pages or to the first page. If you are a filmmaker and you have this issue, I have no respect for you. I think that you are an amateur and the sooner your career ends the better.

So anyway, here I am with no films that meet my criteria….so what did I do? I did what any self-respecting filmmaker would… I ran an ad on Craigslist. Now I will say that I really did intent to write a loud and snarky ad so that I didn’t get a barrage of emails from wanna-be’s. This was shocking incident number two…almost every one of the filmmakers in LA was offended at my attitude and demands. I got a lot of hate mail… and I answered every single email in less than 20 min’s, responding with all my links and web assets…to prove that I have severely surpassed my only requirements and that I was willing to discuss, banter, defend and argue with anyone who thought they had a point.

I can say one thing about the experience….I think that most filmmakers are pussies who feelings are easily hurt. I think that most filmmakers shy away from quantification of what their film is and what it has accomplished. I can’t tell you how stupefying that was! How the fuck are you going to get the feature made if you aren’t willing to have a real conversation about your film? Is anyone seriously chasing money besides me? If you are a filmmaker and cannot explain discretely and succinctly in three sentences or less what your film is about…then you are a hack and a dreamer and I want nothing to do with you. This is not 1987, and it’s not 2000….there are millions of us shooting globally and you need to be able to talk about your film and quickly differentiate it from other films and other competing forms of entertainment. If you lack the ability to do this then you not living up to your fiduciary responsibilities as a director! Wearing black, only speaking in cryptic phrases or answering “it can’t be explained easily” is an indefensible position. The only reason a filmmaker is not able to talk about their film is because they really don’t know what it is about. They’ve never thought about it…because they feel that the film will “reveal” itself, they feel that at some point it will pop into their heads like divine intervention. If you are this type of filmmaker I suggest you turn away because here it comes.

I fail to understand how you will rally your troops (crew), your financiers, your attorneys, your actors or anyone for that matter if you can’t speak ad nauseum about your project. Too long have I sat in the audience with Det. Budd by my side listening to paper bag idealists opine on what the “think” their film says…..but still I digress.

The Second Disappointment: Filmmakers seem to not understand what their primary responsibility is. Your primary responsibility is to screen your film, period! Creating a body of work, fucking a Super Model, buying a Ferrari and anything else you can dream up is subordinate to this one discreet function. So I think you will understand my shock and concern that people actually emailed me to tell me why they thought my idea was not a good idea. They actually emailed me to give valid reasons why they cannot or will not screen. I found myself having to convince people to send me screeners, I had to convince people to “not be afraid” when it came to getting into my screening. It was truly amazing that I had to literally beg them to send me their films. I state this because I still mail about 5-10 screeners a month, I’ll send my short to anyone if I think it might lead to a screening or a review. But I am greeted with suspicion from most of the filmmakers that I corresponded with. They wanted credentials, assurances, and work histories…the whole nine. But wait, it gets better…then we started to argue about money. I stated in my ad that it would cost about $200 per filmmaker to get into the screening. I also promised that I’d launch a website and a flash based promo. But that wasn’t enough.

I had people call me on the phone and call me a hustler and an asshole because I was charging filmmakers to screen. When I corrected them and told them that the only thing they would have to pay for was their share of renting the venue….that wasn’t enough…they wanted to know I wouldn’t screen their film for free. I actually had a filmmaker tell me that she never pays to screen and only travels if they fly her out…..that’s fucking amazing.

And then I had the people who just called me a crook outright for asking for money, telling me that my price was “way too high”. To these people I respond “How often do you screen?”; “Do you four-wall you film?” Of course the answers of these questions is no. This is not a learned population of filmmakers looking for inspiration. These are lazy broke motherfuckers who do nothing to push their films forward. Time and time again I quoted to filmmakers that if you were to go it alone that the minimum you would pay would be $600/hr and how are you going to fill 150 seat theater??’

But I shook all that off, called up some cats that I know and picked one dude from the ad and then I started to plan the screening.

I picked three filmmakers, two of which I knew and one that came thru craigslist. I established an email group to foster communication.

So the deal was each of us owed $212 to the academy…the date was more than two months away and I just wanted to show the films in the correct context.

The Miles Situation: So, I had this filmmaker named Miles. He lives in NYC. I met him last year when we screened together. I liked his film and I liked him as a person. So I naturally wanted him to be part of this screening...

Two days before the money was due to the Academy, Miles drops out. Now that in and of itself was pretty fucking weak; but he didn’t even have cojones to call me on the phone and tell me personally why he was dropping out of the screening. But I didn’t get that, instead I got an email that began with “…sorry dude” that‘s what I call unprofessional, but who the fuck am I? But wait… it gets better. So two days later Miles’ lead actor is contacting Victoria (my producer). Now this is the third time I’ve worked with Victoria…I consider her to be a friend and an associate. The next thing I know she’s calling me and telling me that this guy is pissed. That he’s already bought a plane ticket and a hotel stay and wants to know why the film he’s starring in is not going to screen. Victoria told me flatly that I was not paying her enough to deal with this...and I concurred... I told her to tell all of them to contact me.

There is radio silence till the next day…and a little note here….how pissed can you really be if you don’t seek and immediate resolution… it’s a non sequitur that you can wait a day… but whatever. When I speak to this lead actor he’s very nice, very polite. I know that we are probably going to argue badly, but I didn’t feel the need to escalate things. I told him that I understood that he’s already spent the money and has people flying to see the film…but that Miles dropped out… two days ago…in an email. There was an eerie silence on the phone before he continued to speak.

I guess I kind of led him on by thinking that Miles could get back into the screening…when that was never really a possibility…unlike Miles, as a director I do not make a habit of reversing myself when I make decisions. It makes you seem impulsive and not able to handle the responsibilities of your title…but I wasn’t closing out the possibility…….I was willing to consider it, kind of.

Next thing I know Miles in calling my celli… wanting to know if he can pay the money and get back into the screening. He refused to acknowledge that he screwed us, that he was impulsive, that he was unprofessional. Now let me be clear here, I did not expect an apology or even a capitulation…I just want him to acknowledge what he did was really selfish and inconvenient for the rest of us. His inability to do that meant to me that he lacks sincerity and to a certain extent, humility.

So I decide to not make a decision just yet…I want to feel out the situation because my main concern is my screening. Miles has indicated that he has little concern for anyone (including his own lead actor) when it comes to his film. He was not the filmmaker that I thought he was and I no longer wanted to screen with him (“your wac rhymes will never infect me...”).

But I’m a dread; I can’t just do someone like that. I haven’t cut my hair in 12 years…so I carry all my memories with me on my head….a snap decision to be mean or spiteful would be counterproductive to my growth as a dread…so I just continued to question him.

This is how it went down….

So what‘s the real problem bro? Why can’t I just pay the money and get back into the screening?

It’s not that easy

Why isn’t it that easy? It’s only been a few days?

Well for starters I’ve already edited the website and the flash promo to exclude you.

That’s minor, that’s got nothing really to do with the screening. It won’t matter if the program doesn’t match the site.

Actually it matters a lot

Why does that matter?

Because this is not some hack job of a screening; the entire idea was to be professionals and to act professionally and that means that the screening, the site and the promo all need to match.

But does that really matter?

Miles it’s my reputation as a producer and my production company’s reputation. That is of the utmost importance to me.

Ok, what else is there to it?

Well, the main reason that I can’t screen your film is that I don’t have a copy of your film. Have you mailed me the Dig beta yet?

Now realized that I was expecting Miles to surprise me and tell me that I would receive it tomm. But what he said to me…was really unexpected.

I’m having it made tomm.

I’m sorry, so you are telling me that you don’t own a Dig beta copy of your film?

It’s not that big of a deal. I’ll get it dubbed tomm.

It’s not that easy Miles.

Why isn’t it? It’s just a tape.

Miles it’s Sunday. If you are thinking that you can walk into a lab and come out with a master in an are fooling yourself.

Dude you just have to press record.

And hope the master gets made on the first try. There are a number of things that could go wrong like a broken time code or a no sound or bad sound… it’s your master, you’re not just going to rush in there and dub it, you are being unrealistic.

I’m not talking about going into a dub house; I’m going to have a friend do it.

Regardless if it’s a friend or a dub house the machine is not sitting idle, you have to get on the docket for Monday’s production.

So what are you saying, it can’t be done. I’m telling you I can get the dub made and bring it with me.

Miles, what if you forget the dub, what if you leave it on the plane by accident?

That’s not going to happen.

Look, there is a reason why when you play a festival that you have to send your film to them weeks in advance of your screening…so that the film cannot be accidentally forgotten.

So what are you telling me?

Let me think about it. I’ll call you back in a few.

That’s my text book answer when I’m about to cut someone. It’s a nice way to buy yourself some thinking time and also would allow you to reverse yourself (if you were so inclined) and not look hypocritical. I waited about 2 hours and called him back

Ok, here’s the deal. I think it’s just too late. I don’t want to jeopardize my screening.

How does it jeopardize the screening?

(sigh) All of this is contingent on you have an extremely productive next 72 hours, which I personally think is expecting a lot of things to go your way. The whole reason that I started planning this thing in July was to avoid this kind of madness in the last few days. And no because of no fault of my own I have to sweat out getting a Dig beta tape from you and none of my assets match. But that wasn’t my deciding factor.

What was the deciding factor?

You don’t have a Dig beta master

Dude, I’ve got three places that can do it tomm!

That’s not the point.

Then what’s the point?

The point is that you have been aware for more than 3 months that we were screening on Dig beta and never once did you make any attempts to have a master made. Only in the waning moments of exclusion have you taken it upon yourself to have a Master made. I just don’t believe that this screening has ever been important to you and I don’t want you to be a part of it.

Well, ok then. I see you at the top

So Miles is gone, and now we can’t really do anything with the reception because the cash flow is now totally fucked. That left me, Brad and Matteo and things weren’t looking good. Getting and sustaining the attention of the money people proved to be truly harder than I realized. Or maybe it was a lack of sincerity, who the fuck knows? Brad is a good director who’s on top of his shit, we never had a single problem…but the there was Matteo.

Matteo who initially seemed to pressure me on the speed of the operation and my professionalism…yet he doesn’t read his email on a daily basis…or maybe I don’t warrant a response. The strange thing for me was that I was not impressed by Matteo or his film…but I did want to screen it. I didn’t want to be accused of sabotaging my own screening by expecting everyone to act as I do….(I should have reconsidered that).

Matteo is a rather religious dude, a Christian I believe. I don’t know and I don’t care because I am an atheist so your religious affiliation has no bearing on how I feel about as a person. I wasn’t quite sure how I would screen a film with no profanity in it, if I would disclaim it or leave it be. But Matteo wanted in…so I was ok with everything because I thought he was sincere.

The trailer issue: So, Matteo was the only one of us without a trailer. This matters because I wanted to play the trailers on the screen as people were being seated for the show. When I inquired about it he told me that he ran out of money and hence didn’t have a trailer. If you don’t know me and have listening to nothing that I’ve said, listen to this. Stating that you don’t have the money is not a valid excuse in filmmaking, because you will never have enough money. If you were making a $200MM feature you’d still be bitching that you can’t get another$3-$5MM. Hence when I hear filmmakers evoke poverty I have no sympathy for them, they are giving up…it’s that simple. Instead of finding a way to get what you want….they resign themselves to the fact that it can’t be done.

Ever the producer I get on the phone and low and behold I find and editor…a guy who works with my roommate. I put the word out that I needed a trailer cut and that I had “some ends”… which means that I did not expect someone to work for free. Next thing I know I’m talking to this guy…. He’s really nice and basically indicates to me that he’ll do it….he just wants the experience of working on the screening program. Well this is about when I went to Vegas and fell in love with a stripper (well, she fell in love with my $20 bills). I brought the parties together and everybody was happy.

Three weeks later the trailer hadn’t been cut. Turns out Mr. Editor want $250 to cut the trailer. The fact that this was not established in the initial conversation is the height of unprofessionalism but what can you do? These are friends of friends and such….you can’t just start telling motherfuckers to shut the fuck up… that’s probably not going to go over well. Since I felt personally responsible I told Matteo that I’d meet him halfway and cough up the $125 to get the trailer finished…. He was excited by my offer. He was supposed to call me later that day and I’d hook up with him and give him the money….but he never called. I was a little perplexed, but I wasn’t going to sweat a guy to give him money. So right about the time that I lose Miles as a director Matteo still doesn’t have the trailer. We set up another meet and guess what?? He tells me that he doesn’t need my money. Ok, great…then where the fuck is your trailer?

This editor is pissed and apparently called up Matteo and bitched him out…he even tried to dime on me saying that I said that Matteo was a real filmmaker. Not only is that not a verbatim statement…but it’s taken out of context. When we meet so I can get Matteo’s Dig beta tape he still doesn’t have the trailer. I really didn’t know what the problem was…but I didn’t care. So Matteo is sitting here with two Dig beta tapes in his hands…telling me that one has different music and he wants me to listen to both of them and pick the correct one…like I’m his fucking assistant! I tell him flatly that I …..1) don’t have the time to do it and 2) I don’t have access to a Dig beta deck. He seems disappointed in me, like I’m being difficult. Hey Matteo… it’s your fucking film. If you don’t enough to label them correctly or remember which one your screened last…then you are an amateur…it’s that simple. But the real place where things went south was when I emailed Matteo a PDF. A PDF that he couldn’t open and had to send to him repeatedly. If a filmmaker cannot open a read-only film, if a filmmaker is not familiar with read-only files…if a filmmaker is unaware how to launch Adobe on his machine…then he’s a hack. It’s the equivalent to a mechanic that cannot use a pair of pliers. No matter what I do he complains that I’ve done something to the file. To save face (yeah, like I care) I ignore his emails for about a day….and he figures it out.

The next test was when I told him that he needed to compress his trailer to upload it. He called me from his car and I began to talk about QuickTime pro and what export functions he should use. He kind of cuts me off and tells me that he’s driving and wants me to put it all in an email. I knew then that Matteo doesn’t have a technical understanding of filmmaking and has no desire to attain one. If a filmmaker is not will to discuss the virtues of file compression and exporting….of his work…he doesn’t care. It’s that simple. I’m not making a judgment call, I’m not only looking filmmakers who are like myself, quite the contrary…I was looking for filmmakers that were in control of their own destiny. I openly wondered if he was kid enough

In the days approaching the screening I had a bad feeling. I had a host of money people, all of which required certain types of particular attention for them to perform at their best. I wasn’t concerned that I had lost my …mojo, but I was concerned that the entire thing was just a little too forward thinking for these individuals. It has been said that people know what they like and like what they know. Well no one seems to know or understand what it is that I am trying to do. I fielded question after question about what I was doing and why I was doing it. What I had thought would put the EP’s at ease seems to have done the opposite. Since filmmakers don’t make a habit of banding together and having a “professional” screening and then a round table discussion to advertise their skill set, it was being viewed with great suspicion. And on the filmmaker side I was facing a similar challenge. My filmmaker didn’t exactly trust me and one of them I know had deep suspicions that I was up to something else. My general attitude about all of this was that I don’t need this shit. SLZ gets bigger everyday and I need new money people every day; even if this was an abysmal failure I personally had options… but, back to the screening.

With less than a week to go the RSVP’s seemed rather thin. I have this east coast guy who’s already said that he and his people want to make SLZ, yet he shows no interest in seeing the short on the big screen and in elusive with the returning of phone calls. I’m sure all of you who read this regularly are familiar with the Dennis McGovern situation (he was my safety EP). I’ve got the agent of my lead actor and my Fox exec. You will notice that I am coming rather close to naming these individuals…that is because my window of opportunity to get money from them and to get my film made…is quickly dissipating. Consequently I’m not all that concerned that I might offend someone or ruin a deal. As it looks none of these deals or forthcoming I don’t think I have anything left to lose… so fuck it.

I went into producer mode…you know producer mode-when your contacts are falling though, the checks are bouncing in the production account and the is an incessant ringing of your cell phone from people who are angry with you…and all you can do is continue to work on your project and focus on just why you decide to enter film and ruin your life. Well that where I was, sitting in my room which is an utter and complete shambles since I haven’t done laundry since Bush’s first administration and I just keep throwing papers on the floor and refuse to throw anything. Here I sat, wallowing in scattered 8 ½ X 11 papers, three landlines, a celli and lots of dirty laundry. I reminisced on how I’d hired Victoria to produce and still I couldn’t chill the fuck out. No matter how many people that I have working with or for me…I still feel that it is all my responsibility and if it doesn’t come together it’s all my fault.

I should probably point out that I hedged my bet on this screening. I was leaving from Phoenix less than 15 hrs after the screening was scheduled to take place. Good or bad, win or lose… I’d be out of LA before the rumors could start. I know feel like I’m some type of a political aide who sole job is to minimize the downside effects and possible bad press that could emanate from everything you do. So in my mind the stakes really weren’t that high. I’m splitting the cost with two other people and we all have guest lists and such…how bad could it be?

The day of the screening was really chaos. Matteo called me to ask a question about bringing his one sheet. I topic that was discussed in detail at the Academy meeting…oh, that’s right. Matteo skipped that meeting and now his lack of knowledge is my problem. We have a brief conversation and he seems to not understand why I am perturbed. It’s not because he didn’t know, or didn’t go to the meeting…It’s because today is D-day. If you call the main producer of a project on the day that the project actually jumps off…you will get the same reaction… silence and then Kurt answers.

The screening is in two hours, the Academy has stipulated that we must submit a written, alphabetical list of the guest prior to the screening… its hella late and I have to do it... because I live closest. Not to mention that I am waiting for 60 PAL DVD’s to arrive…but whatever it’s going down…no use in bitching about it. I’m receiving phone call after phone call and I really am amazed at all the drama. I’m the one who designed, printed and assembled the programs, had the chairs delivered, picked up the trailer DVD that we’ll play while people are being seated. So what why does everyone act like they got a lot of shit to do…lies, lies I tell you!

I pull up to the garage at the Academy and security isn’t exactly happy to see me. They can’t find my name, they can’t find my event and they don’t even know if they garage is going to be open later. I reply... “Well they cashed my check”. This elicits the first smile of the night. Then a phone in the security booth rings and alas, they let me in. The head guard asks if I am the point person on the evening. I should really answer no because I have a producer and an assistant, but I answer yes…because I want the problems to be solved immediately and not stand around bitching because someone didn’t do their job.

The first phone call I receive is from Little Larry (my assistant) and he is being refused entry to the building because he isn’t on the list. I have to go down to the garage and personally ID him. No real big deal…but it’s not an encouraging sign.

So here I am carrying director’s chairs with Little Larry beginning to sweat. What I am not talking about is how my phone is not ringing with calls from money people who need to know where to park. Again not a good sign. Det. Budd shows up on his crutches (he had knee surgery); I don’t think he expects much to come of it, but he trusts me so he showed up. Let’s hope I don’t disappoint my producing partner as well.

It’s now 6:55pm and there are only 11 people in this room. We have had a tremendous amount of no-shows. I hear the whispering and tip-toeing around me and I chuckle to myself. I don’t judge my worth as a filmmaker by the fickle reactions of the moneymen. No, I know what I have to do… I have to shoot my feature… even if it kills me.

The Academy is really living up its reputation. There is an usher in each of the two elevators, and usher on the first level… and when you get to the screening room. They were really nice and really professional and it’s really a steal to screen there for $600. I can’t really say one bad thing about the Academy. But now they are asking if we should start… cause it’s getting late. I can tell that there is a lot of apprehension because many fear that my heart is being broken. Ha, I live for this kind of shit. I tell them that; yes… we should start the screening.

Brad’s film “The Package” is first. It looks better than I remember. His dialogue is smart and crisp and brings his characters to life… he has some nuances and lots of style. I really hope people respond to his film and ideas. I think he’s really talented.

Before I commence on this commentary I would like to state that Matteo Ribaud was given ample opportunities on several occasions to defend himself and his film and his vision; none of which he really feels is necessary to do. So this airing of public laundry comes to you because I don’t tolerate people pretending to filmmake… all of you know this. This is probably going to get rather harsh and I want you to know that I spent weeks trading emails with Matteo and talking to him. He has nothing to add about anything and I don’t respect him…that’s why I he’s getting’ smashed here. Now on to the violence….

Then Matteo’s film “In the Name of My Father” screens. Now you have to realize that Matteo wanted no parts of the technical issues of film. He didn’t attend the drop off meeting with the Academy, he no-showed for the tech screening @ 5pm on the screening day. He did not speak to Victoria at all… which is not going to be tolerated when I am producing. I’ll make you pay one way or another… guess which way Matteo is about to pay? He did not ask me, Victoria, the projectionist or the house manager a single question about the presentation of his film… not even the volume level; a truly amazing standpoint for someone who calls themselves a filmmaker and a quite…amateur way to present yourself. By definition directors are control freaks who love to tweak things…. But not Matteo. I guess he believes in magic because he takes no precautions what-so-ever to see that he screens well. He did get some people to turn out one of which was his producing partner but that was not the best scenario (more on that later).

Matteo’s film was shot on super 16mm as was mine and Brad’s yet there are major differences in the look of the films. Unlike my film and Brad’s film Matteo’s is not warm and inviting... and I don’t think he knows why. His film suffers from several technical decisions that individually don’t mean much, but in their totality… start to ruin the film. And normally I wouldn’t do this... but someone needs to because he seems to think he’s somewhat ingenious with what he has shot. His film was a limited color palette with a fair amount of pastels (though he does get some primary colors involved)…but the pastels make the film very pale, very flat. Add to this his reluctance to use close-ups (the medium shot is the shot of the amateur because they can see everything in the shot and hence don’t have to make a decision. Yes it is safe… but keeps us really far from the subjects in terms of focal distance which translates into emotional distance) and his desire for “on the nose dialogue” and you have your work cut out. He does have this crane that he pimps a little bit... but camera equipment by itself does not make a shot dynamic… that is something you have to compliment in the frame... he has no understanding of this what-so-ever. He allows his shots to get stale because he loves long uninterrupted takes. I am assuming he fancies himself as some sort of Cassavetes but really it’s a point and shoot mentality (point the camera and yell action). The scene that suffers the most is the dining room scene, which is arguably his best scene. But the room he is shooting in is really small and has really restricted the kind of shot he could get… so he opts for the static camera (actually a lot of his shots are static)…that scene would benefit greatly from a lateral dolly move… since it’s such a flat composition. But you have to think about the frame and about the viewer to realize this. And this is not what motivates Matteo. He got a somewhat good reaction from the assembled crowd, and for that I was happy…for the audience saw something it liked.

I programmed Matteo’s film because in totality it’s an interesting film. He is obviously an actor without much to do who wants in the game… so he made a film. He lacks the necessary distance to direct because he primarily wants to act. On a subconscious level he doesn’t want to a be upstaged by another actor…especially in a film his written and directed… so everyone has to kind of be at his level… which is a lot of nudge and wink and smiling.. not what I’d deem a character study. Matteo’s film is interesting because even though his dialogue is flat, even though he relies on cheesy film school devices like the dolly counter zoom and matched comedy cuts on the same word, stiff actors and poor lighting decisions…it all comes together in his final scene. But I don’t think that Matteo know why. I’ve watched his film more than 15 times and I can tell you that each of the stylistic choices that makes the film work he did not make. He is oblivious to these things, oblivious that he is commenting on the body of film, that he is commenting on gender roles, on issues of traditional male power. The most amusing thing I think is the boxing scene. It’s his best scene because Matteo is aware that he doesn’t know shit about shooting stunts let alone boxing scenes…so he just tries to honestly represent what happens in the scene. His entire film could have benefitted from that approach. So I guess you want to know why I bothered to screen him? Well, Matteo is not Cooprdog. He doesn’t have a grand vision of film, he isn’t a revolutionary…and I often ignore people like Matteo. The fact that he wears his Christianity on his sleeve and I am an atheist is even more of a dichotomy. It took a lot of courage for him to answer my ad and to get involved. I put my personal likes and dislikes aside to give him an opportunity to screen; because at the end of the day I support independent filmmakers

The Q & A

So it’s all about the Q & A for me. This is what separates the men from the boys and what will get us financed. I wrote 30 in-depth, hard-hitting questions like: Who do you make films for? Who is your target market? What do you want out of all of this?

Some of the questions caught Brad off guard and really made him ponder for a few seconds; I really felt bad about that because I wasn’t trying to put anyone on the spot…but he always had an intelligent and passionate response. He was a lively participant in the discussion and I’d love to do another with him. Matteo was a different story. It appears that he has no real answers for us. He thinks that questions about why he made the film, or who he makes film for is redundant. He seemed offended that Victoria would pose such a question.

I’d like to say that I was pretty reserved during the Q & A. I produced the thing, I wrote the questions and handpicked the films, I didn’t need to dominate the question-answering. Then suddenly there was a question from the audience... and another question for the audience. It took me a while to realize that Matteo’s people had an agenda... and that adjenda was digital distribution.

Let me first state to anyone who wants to debate or engage me that I suggest you do your homework. I am a graduate of Duquesne University’s business School. I hold a BS in Economics. I make my money working for an institutional investor as an equity analyst. That means that I perform fundamental valuation on publically traded companies looking for price discrepancies so as to create alpha. I state this because Matteo’s partner really wanted to argue the points, but had nothing but rhetorical arguments… as you will see.

A friend of Matteo’s posed a question about the use and affect of sites like YouTube and the coming digital distribution; he asked what was supposed to be a gift for Matteo and his producing partner to talk about what I can only assume is their online initiatives. I state this because I have done my research on you Matteo. I’ve been to “million dollar movie” and seen that you’ve only raised $68,500 in more than a year of your venture. And idea that you stole from a student. I see that you tried to make yourself more buoyant by adding a screening writing competition so that you could press talking about the “new way to look at film”. But I’m assuming that it wasn’t successful, seeing as neither you, nor your partner nor Russ has made it to the “big time”.

What went wrong with their plan was that I was there and I know a lot about digital distribution…for fuck’s sake I’m a filmmaker, and media analyst, a theoretician and an investment banker….how the fuck could I not?????

Matteo’s partner posed the question about digital distribution changing the way we see films because any film can be downloaded to any theater to be screened…he sat in the audience with stars in his eyes as he pontificated on how great this level playing field would be and that the “cream would rise to the top”. I ignored the fact that the two of them would have trouble shooting sock puppets in 35mm yet they think they can lead a revolution. I initially gave him something theoretical to think about…. Only someone with the ability to put a satellite in space can determine the content beamed off that satellite. His partner laughed at that. As if the rich white men who are fighting to profit off this new form of distribution feel some allegiance to indie filmmakers….are you fucking serious? Sean… have you had many conversations with that caliber of financial maverick???

But wait it gets better… his partner counters that you can show whatever you want in digital distribution. I guess he (and Matteo and that whole crew) thinks that some free art distributor is going to form to beam his shit into space.

Things begin to get a little heated and then I started to get in his ass. I pointed out that I did not disagree with any of the things he was saying, but that none of that will alleviate the current problems of exhibition. His comments were anecdotal at best.

And then we got to Netflix. His partner stipulated that he just downloaded Biloxi blues for $3 and that that we could do that. I pounced on him. I told him that he downloaded Biloxi Blues because it has stars in it, and he’d know about it for years. That has nothing to do with getting indie films seen.

My real issue is that as a filmmaker I do not want to surrender control of the viewing process to someone home computer. As he continued to protest I asked him a sincere question: we don’t pay for anything on the web…the connotation is that the web is free, do you really want to associate your film with that?... he didn’t have an answer.

Victoria intervened and the Q & A was over. The place cleared out. I did approach Matteo and his crew and told them that I wasn’t trying to lecture them…but them seemed very stand-offish.

In hindsight I was too polite. I was afraid of sound overbearing (me, overbearing…never) and didn’t want to intimidate anyone…but I should have really smashed them.

The place began to clear out. And it was me, Victoria, Little Larry and Victoria’s smokin’ hot friend Ivy. I’d like to point out that I’m like the only dude in the place that didn’t try to put it on Ivy. I don’t compete with JV…and as a man, I know the only real way to impress her in that situation is to screen well… and that remained to be seen.

So there I was, wondering if Brad was pissed, wondering how it is that Matteo can call himself a Christian and be so un-Christian in how he treats others, wondering if anyone cares if I screen my film. As I turned on my Blackcherry it lit up with messages….from my Fox guy.

He couldn’t find the place, was driving around for a bit. I called him back and he was pretty apologetic because I think he thought I was angry with him, but I wasn’t. I think my filmmaking career is a foregone conclusion…if he doesn’t want to go along for the ride, that’s his decision… I’m going to get this bitch shot either way. He comes to the Academy and helps me load up. He asks me how it went and literally begs me for a screener and a business plan. He feels guilty, but he doesn’t have to. I know who he is… I know he produces $20MM films and I’m not really on his radar… I’m know where I stand on the priority list.

He demands we do breakfast in 11 hours…and when I called him his phone was off. Maybe he forgot, maybe he was gettin’ his dick sucked…it doesn’t really matter. My film will get made.

The conclusion:

Anytime you can screen your film it is a success and if the money people don’t come… then fuck them. Just screening your film is a political act. Cinema Urgency was not about getting money, and cinema urgency was not about making friends… Cinema Urgency was about not waiting and hoping that someone makes your career. I have experienced more personal and professional embarrassment and failure than most people…this was no more upsetting than the no-shows at my premiere…or failing CFA level I three times in a row, or dropping the baton at the Penn Relays, or how about getting into a fight with my first DP on the shoot of “The Economics of consciousness” and having to close down the production because she wouldn’t compromise. I have no tears left to shed. I have nothing left but desire, and you can’t crush that…even if you tried.


PS… I’m in the UK, screening. I have a lot of stories to tell, but I’d rather try to get fucked on a nightly than to blog. So be patient… I have some real hot shit for you… I don’t come back to the states till the 14th… so it will be sporadic posting till then….but you know the deal… if I disappear for a while… I come back with mad pages…. Peace!

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